September 27, 2018


Why we should fear Corbyn's socialism (Stephen Daisley, 27 September 2018, The Spectator)

The event has been reported as the party's most radical in years but it was just as stage-managed and spun as in the New Labour era. Fudges on Brexit and deselection were finagled by the leadership and the unions. MPs were told to keep their speeches to a maximum of seven minutes, or 17 for those quoting extensively from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Rallies were held in support of the leader, Tom Watson pretended to be some kind of moral ballast, and the feminists got shafted again. Proceedings closed as they always do with a rousing rendition of 'The Red Flag', which remains the party's preferred anthem despite stiff competition from 'Throw the Jew Down the Well'. 

Look again, though, at policy. Free childcare, 400,000 green jobs, and reduced carbon emissions. Which of those would Tony Blair disagree with? Certainly pledges on worker share ownership of large firms were to the left of Blair , but any number of credible soft-left Labour leaders (plus Ed Miliband) would have been happy to endorse the principle. Ditto much of the talk of renationalisation. Andy Burnham promised to take the railways back into public ownership during the 2015 leadership campaign and nationalising utilities would be more dramatic if both Miliband and Theresa May hadn't advocated energy price caps. On the biggest political (though not the biggest popular) issue of the day, Brexit, the Corbyn Party continues to fudge, with the occasional moment of clarity quickly melted back down into the viscous goo below. 

It would be contrarian to argue that the Corbyn Party isn't to the left of the party it replaced. It is, but not by as much as its dreamy-eyed foot soldiers believe. When he wasn't palling around with the IRA and assorted anti-Semites, Corbyn spent much of his backbench career opposing Neil Kinnock from the left. How times change, and men of unshakeable principle too. For I can't think of any policy espoused by Corbyn that Kinnock would have disagreed with in his time as Labour leader. If anything, Corbyn is more conservative. He went to the country last year on a pro-Trident manifesto, whereas Kinnock went into his first election as leader pledging to 'inform the Americans that we wish them to remove their cruise missiles and other nuclear weapons from Britain'. Public opinion has lurched to the left and the left's figurehead ambles sluggishly after it. 

If this is Corbynism -- if it's really just a harder edge on the soft-left -- why go to all the trouble of electing a life-long far-leftist to push bog-standard social democracy? It can't be charisma -- Corbyn has none. It can't be charm -- same. Maybe young lefties like him for the same reason a generation of film school freshmen swooned over Pauline Kael, a middle-aged broad who mimicked their patois and told them what they wanted to hear. Don't underestimate the power of rhetoric. Rhetoric matters and in rhetorical terms Corbyn is at odds with the last three decades of bland managerialism. Talk of 'a broken economic system', 'the political and corporate establishment' and 'the old way of running things isn't working any more' pushes buttons in much the same way strikingly similar language has for Trump, Vote Leave, the SNP and the nativist governments of Hungary and Italy. 

Posted by at September 27, 2018 4:04 AM